Rochester’s Daredevil: Sam Patch (1799-1829)

Readers of a certain age will remember Evel Knievel (1938-2007), known for various daredevil exploits (including an attempted jump over the Snake River Canyon). More recently, on June 15, 2012, Nik Wallenda walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope, and five years later, his wife Erendira dangled above Niagara Falls by her teeth, 300 feet above the water. Daredevils have always been among us, but only one American daredevil became a legend in Rochester and then the nation — Sam Patch.

Sam Patch was born on June 17, 1799 in Reading, Massachusetts. Raised in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, he went to work in a local cotton mill at the age of 8. In his free time, he and his friends amused themselves by jumping into the water below the falls of the Blackstone River, a practice he continued into adulthood. Two decades later, he moved to Paterson, New Jersey, where in September 1827, he leaped the Passaic Falls, upstaging the celebration of an unpopular local businessman, Timothy Crane, who was dedicating a new pre-constructed bridge at the falls. He repeated the stunt on July 4, 1828 and again 15 days later.

Upon leaving Paterson, he began a career as a professional daredevil.  Having been invited by hoteliers in Niagara Falls, on October 7, 1829, he leaped 80 feet over the falls from a base on Goat Island. Ten days later, on October 17, 1829, he repeated the stunt, this time from a platform that raised the leap to 120 feet. On his way home from the Falls, he stopped in Rochester for his final jumps of the year.

sam patch- advert

Advertisement for Sam Patch’s last jump
(Published in Rochester Daily Advertiser and Telegraph, November 12, 1829)

Both jumps were from the High Falls north of downtown. About 6,000 people watched as he jumped on November 6, 1829 from 100 feet above the river, preceded by his pet bear. Due to public interest, he announced that he would repeat the stunt one week later, on Friday November 13, 1829 at 2:00 PM from a stage which would raise the height to 125 feet. He also proclaimed that his pet bear would repeat the stunt one hour later. In front of a crowd of 10,000 people, Patch leaped from his platform, but lost his balance and landed sideways in the water, from which he never surfaced.

sam patch- parsons mill

Saw Mill of Thomas Parsons (1860?). Brown’s Island,
the site of Sam Patch’s leap from the High Falls into the Genesee River

Because his body was not immediately recovered, various legends grew up around Patch. Known as a hard drinker, it was believed by some that Patch had been drunk the day of the jump and that he had died as a result. Some believed that he had hidden behind the sheet of water of the High Falls and remained there until darkness fell, after which he made his escape. In fact, some were so sure he was alive that bets were placed that he would reappear before the start of the new year.

Such speculations came to an end on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1830, when his body was recovered from the Genesee River in Charlotte. His body was unrecognizable after months in the water, but several clues were used to identify the remains, including the black handkerchief he wore around his waist. Today his mortal remains are interred in Charlotte Cemetery, 28 River Street.

Sam Patch’s legend did not end with his death. Throughout the 19th century he was featured in tall tales, stage plays and children’s books. His name even became a polite epithet, “What the Sam Patch!” Today, his name adorns one of the river boats used for cruises on the Genesee.

sam patch - boat

Sam Patch river boat

-Christopher Brennan

For Further Information:

Primary Sources:

“Another Leap! Sam Patch Against the World!” Rochester Daily Advertiser and Telegraph, October 29, 1829, p. 2, col. 5.

“Higher Yet! Sam’s Last Jump!” [advertisement], Rochester Daily Advertiser and Telegraph, November 12, 1829, p. 2, col. 5.

“Shocking Event! Sam’s Last Jump!” Rochester Daily Advertiser and Telegraph,” November 14, 1829, p. 2, col. 2.

“Sam Patch,” Rochester Daily Advertiser and Telegraph, November 28, 1829, p. 2, col. 2.

“Sam Patch,” Rochester Daily Advertiser and Telegraph, March 18, 1830, p. 2, col. 1.

Secondary Sources:

“Sam Patch,” in The Encyclopedia of New York State, ed. Peter Eisenstadt (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2005), 1184-1185.

Paul E. Johnson, Sam Patch, The Famous Jumper (New York: Hill and Wang, 2003).

Ruth Rosenberg-Naparsteck, “The Real Simon Pure Sam Patch,” Rochester History 52, no. 3 (Summer 1991).

Published in: on January 12, 2018 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Frederick Douglass’ Rochester: a New (mini-)Exhibit in Local History!


Yesterday, Mayor Lovely A. Warren and County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo proclaimed 2018 as “The Year of Frederick Douglass.” In honour of the bicentennial of Douglass’ birth, the City of Rochester and various local organizations and institutions will be offering a number of programs throughout the year to celebrate the life and legacy of the famed abolitionist, statesman and orator.

A few months ago, we in the Local History division began pondering how we might participate in this momentous anniversary. One of the ideas we came up with was to create a small exhibit on Douglass in conjunction with our current exhibit on Rochester’s bicentennials and centennials.

Seeking an original theme for the exhibit, we decided to focus on Frederick Douglass’ Rochester, highlighting the spaces and places that informed his life in the Flower City.

douglass exhibit- pamphlet

Douglass once wrote that he would always feel more at home in Rochester than anywhere else in the country, and his legacy is undoubtedly felt throughout the city in which resided for a quarter of a century.

His name adorns local institutions and sites such as the Frederick Douglass Community Library and Frederick Douglass Street, while artistic renderings of him span the city from the Wall Therapy mural at the corner of Joseph Avenue and Avenue D, to the Frederick Douglass Monument in the Highland Park Bowl.

These posthumous tributes to the civil rights activist coexist with the sites and spaces that shaped Douglass’ own life here.

Frederick Douglass resided in Rochester with his wife Anna and five children from 1847 to 1872. He moved here to establish his anti-slavery newspaper the North Star, which he published in the Talman Building on East Main Street.

His skills as an orator took him to renowned venues such as Corinthian Hall, where he delivered perhaps his most famous speech, ‘What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?” in 1852.

His work continued at home, where he wrote articles, coordinated Underground Railroad activities and sheltered escaped slaves. Only one of the three houses Douglass owned in Rochester (located on Hamilton Street) still stands today.

These are just some of the sites that patrons can learn about in the Local History Division’s new mini-exhibit: Frederick Douglass’ Rochester: Mapping his Tracks in Our City.

As an added bonus, we have created a compendium exhibit pamphlet so that visitors can take themselves on a self-guided tour of the stomping grounds of one of our most celebrated citizens.

Frederick Douglass’ Rochester: Mapping His Tracks in Our City will run from January 11 -August 31, 2018 on the 2nd floor of the Rundel Library.


-Emily Morry


Published in: on January 5, 2018 at 5:43 pm  Comments (2)  

City of Refuge: The Beginning of Rochester’s Jewish Community

As this blog post is being written, the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah is just ending. Today, the Jewish community in Rochester comprises over 22,000 people, but the earliest immigrants to Rochester were Protestant Yankees. What do we know of the origins of Jewish life in Rochester?

The first known Jewish immigrant to pass through the area was Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851), who came to Rochester in 1825 on his way to Grand Island, seeking to establish a community called Ararat, “a city of refuge for the Jews.”

The first permanent Jewish settler in Rochester is disputed. Some claim the first was Myer (or Meier) Greentree (1818-1890), who arrived in America in 1840, settling in Rochester between 1841 and 1843. Others claim the distinction for Joseph Katz (1814-1901), who was said to be here by 1834 (even though the Rochester city directories support Greentree’s claim over Katz’s).

In rapid succession, several other families settled here by the mid-1840s, including those of  brothers Joseph Wile (1812-1892) and Gabriel Wile (1820-1904), Asher Beir (1818-1893), Elias Ettenheimer (1819-1908), Sigmund Rosenberg (1825-1901), and Hirsh Britenstool (1814?-1896). Occupationally they were clothiers, laying the groundwork for Rochester’s role in the fashion industry in later decades. This small population of Jews would grow exponentially, to the point that by 1870, Jews comprised the fourth largest minority group in the city.

Halacha (Jewish law) specifies that ten adult men are necessary to form a Minyan (the quorum necessary for corporate worship). By 1848, that number had been exceeded. On 9 October 1848, a group of twelve men gathered to form a congregation, today known as B’rith Kodesh (“Holy Covenant”).


Temple B’rith Kodesh, Gibbs Street and Grove Place (ca. 1910)
Built at the site in 1894, the synagogue burned down in 1909 and was
rebuilt and rededicated the following year.

The congregation currently occupies a modern-style building on Elmwood Avenue in Brighton, but initially B’rith Kodesh did not have a permanent home. The members met in the home of Henry Levi, on North Clinton Avenue at Cumberland Street, later moving to the third floor of Stanwix Hall at 2 Front Street. In 1852, they leased an old Baptist chapel on St. Paul Street (near Andrews Street) for their purposes. Four years later, in 1856, they were financially secure enough to purchase, remodel, and move into the St. Paul Street structure. The building would remain their home for nearly 40 years, until the spring of 1894, when they moved into a newly erected building on Gibbs Street at Grove Place. The congregation relocated to the Brighton temple in 1962.


Max Landsberg, Senior Rabbi,
B’rith Kodesh, 1871-1915

How were the Jews of Rochester accepted in their new home? Anti-Semitism was not entirely unknown. This was demonstrated in a February 1860 civil case. A prominent attorney argued on behalf of the plaintiff that whereas the defendants were all Jews, and all the witnesses for the defense were Jews, the jury should be reminded that the tenets of the Jewish faith required them to “to get all they can from Gentiles, in any manner.” Needless to say, this lie raised the ire of the Jewish community. Even so, Jews generally were welcomed into Rochester’s business and political communities, such that the city became the “city of refuge for the Jews” that Noah had envisioned decades before.

-Christopher Brennan


For more information:

Philip S. Bernstein, “Judaism and the Jews in Rochester,” in Centennial History of Rochester, New York, ed. Edward R. Foreman (Rochester, New York : John P.Smith Co., 1934), 4:277-279.

Peter Eisenstadt, Affirming the Covenant: A History of Temple B’rith Kodesh, Rochester, New York, 1848-1998 (Syracuse, New York : Syracuse University Press, 1999).

“The Israelites Defended from Aspersion,” Union and Advertiser, February 15, 1860, p. 2, col. 2

Mary Posman, “Rochester, Refugees and the Jewish Community, 1930 to 1950,” Rochester History 74, no. 2 (Fall 2012).

Stuart E. Rosenberg, The Jewish Community in Rochester, 1843-1925 (New York : Columbia University Press, 1954).



Published in: on December 28, 2017 at 3:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Time of the Season: Sibley’s Toyland

toyland-bears on bikes

When Rochesterians hear the word “Toyland,” they almost invariably think of Sibley’s.

Sibley’s wasn’t the first American store to create such a toy department, nor was it the only one in Rochester to have a floor by that name, but the erstwhile store’s elaborate toy section nevertheless became seemingly synonymous with the Christmas season for generations of area residents.

Department store pioneers such as Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia and Siegel-Cooper in Chicago were among the first to cater to children’s Christmas whims by adding a toy department in the late 19th-century.

Taking a page from their books, Sibley, Lindsay and Curr converted its basement into a seasonal Toyland in 1898.

An advertisement for the new section boasted: “…here, descriptive powers fail to do justice; every Toy that’s made of wood, every Toy that’s made of iron, Games, Drums and musical Toys of every nature, all here for our little friends’ Christmas pleasure.”

The bounty of (mostly European-made) toys flooding the basement’s shelves weren’t the only thing attracting turn-of-the-century children, however. Sibley’s set up intricate mechanical displays featuring colorful fictional characters, each year attempting to outdo the previous year’s effort.

And of course, like other department stores, Sibley’s made sure to have a resident Santa Claus on site to carefully consider the wish lists of their kiddie customers.


Toyland’s entrance ca. 1940.

Toyland’s popularity-and no doubt its profitability-prompted Sibley’s to relocate the department to an expanded section on the fourth floor in the 1920s.

The onset of the Great Depression at decade’s end seemingly did not dampen spirits at the new Toyland. Rochester retailers were quick to note that such recessions scared consumers away from big purchases, but bore less impact on less expensive products, like toys.

A 1930 Democrat and Chronicle article on Toyland noted that Sibley’s’ Santa Claus “…is just as ruddy, his smile as sincere, his whiskers as spurious as ever. He doesn’t know a thing about depressions. And neither, for the matter of that, do the kids. Which is very much as it should be.”

Rather than fall short during the hard times of the 1930s, Sibley’s doubled down on its seasonal section. In 1935, the company followed the trend initiated by Gimbels’ in Philadelphia (and later popularized by Macy’s in New York City), and launched its own annual holiday parade to mark the grand opening of Toyland each year.

Prior to the parade, the balloons spent the night in Cobb’s Hill Park where they were inflated before making their debut along a route spanning from the corner of East Avenue and Culver Road to Main and Saint Paul.

By 1938, the parade counted 30 papier-mache figures and 20 giant balloons including a bug “as long as a trolley car” and a polka dot cow “so big it could use a bale of hay for a stick of chewing gum and then swallow it whole,” according to a D&C reporter.

In 1940, when the crowd for the popular parade was expected to reach 50,000 people, every single police officer in the city was put on special duty.

But while the barrage of balloons helped boost Sibley’s sales, its Toyland (like those across America) took a something of a hit during the war years.

Due to bans on the use of steel, rubber and other materials deemed vital to the war effort, the store experienced shortages of certain types of toys such as wagons and trucks.

Such toys that did enter the wartime market often showcased alternative materials. For instance, since the use of steel was limited to 7% of the gross weight of a toy, toy vehicle manufacturers almost exclusively used wood in their products, saving their steel allotment for wheel axles.

toyland- workshop

A North Pole scene at Sibley’s ca. 1940.

The post-war era witnessed changes of a different kind at Sibley’s.

As more Rochester residents relocated to the suburbs, retailers such as Sibley’s followed suit. In the 1950s and 1960s, Sibley’s added locations in Henrietta and Greece. Each in turn developed its own Toyland, and each featured its own Magic Corridor, the animated diorama marking the path to Santa Claus.

While these suburban forays offered customers added choice and convenience, they ultimately helped influence the demise of the downtown department store.

Santa seekers would make their last pilgrimages to the original Sibley’s Toyland in the late 1980s. The mainstay Main Street store closed its doors for good in 1990.

toyland- tree

-Emily Morry

Published in: on December 19, 2017 at 10:00 am  Comments (2)  

No Selling Gunpowder by Candlelight: The Earliest Laws of Rochesterville

There are generally two types of laws: positive laws (those that seek to encourage the good in a society); and negative laws (those that seek to prevent the bad). Examples of the former are tax laws that encourage home ownership and donations to charity, while examples of the latter include prohibitions on drunk driving and drug use. Thus, one can tell a great deal about a society – its good and bad practices – by studying the laws it imposes.

How is this relevant to early Rochester? We forget how different early village life was from the present city we all know. Those differences are brought to mind by examining some of the activities prohibited in the earliest laws passed by the village trustees in 1817 and 1818:

  • No ball playing or games;
  • No firing of any gun, pistol, rocket or firework within 200 feet of any building;
  • No setting of any fire in the streets, alleys or backyards after sunset;
  • No horse racing;
  • No allowing of any animal to run at large (e.g., cows, horses, swine, sheep, etc.);
  • No animal may be slaughtered within 50 feet of the bridge; (i.e. the Main Street bridge)
  • No leaving dead animals or tainted meat on ground within one half mile of bridge;
  • No bathing (i.e., swimming) in the river between sunrise and 8:00 p.m.;
  • No selling of any liquor on Sundays;
  • No more than 6 pounds of gunpowder to be kept by anyone in the village;
  • No selling, dealing or weighing gunpowder by candlelight.

The rationale for some of these laws can be seen in some of the earliest positive regulations:

  • All fireplaces, ovens, chimneys and stove tops shall be kept clean and in good repair;
  • Each person to provide themselves one fire bucket;
  • Homes with more than four residents shall have two fire buckets, with their names painted upon them.

    Records of the Doings of the Trustees of the Village of Rochester  (Photo from the Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, R.M.S.C.)

    Penalties for violating these initial regulations varied from a minimum of 50 cents to a maximum of $5.00. This may not seem like much, but we must recall that the average laborer earned 50 cents a day or less; thus, the penalties ranged from a whole day’s wage to 10 days’ earnings.

    Why were the penalties so severe?

    We must remember that Rochesterville was a settlement cut out of the wilderness, much of it made out of wood. In the days before a professional fire department was established, a fire could only be fought by the affected family and their neighbors with fire buckets. Fire represented a potential loss of life, limb and savings for the individual, and it had the potential to spread–a risk the village was at pains to prevent. Hence the prohibition of any activity that might lead to fire, such as having open fires in the streets, using fireworks, and working with gunpowder near candles, etc. This is also why there laws in place to keep stoves and chimneys clean and in working order, and to encourage residents to have their own fire buckets handy.

    laws-fire buckets

    19th Century Fire Buckets
    (Printed in Rochester Herald, October 27, 1907. Photo from the Albert R. Stone Negative Collection. R.M.S.C.)

    Another consideration was the protection of the village’s water supply. Today, Rochester’s drinking water is piped in from the Finger Lakes. In those days, the only source of water was the river. Anything that contaminated the river risked contaminating the community. Rochester was already concerned with natural diseases (e.g., typhoid and malaria). It did not wish to run the risk of man-made epidemics or an onslaught of pestilence.

    Then, of course there were the laws that facilitated communal life. Some, like the ban on ball playing and the prohibition of selling liquor on Sundays, were designed to uphold communal moral standards. Others, like the ban on letting animals go free (or the ban on horse racing) were designed to prevent the human residents from being trampled upon or interfered with by the cows, sheep, pigs and other livestock kept by the residents.

    These laws seem quaint to us now. Which of our laws and regulations will seem quaint to our descendants?


    Firemen with Equipment (1861?)

    -Christopher Brennan

Published in: on December 7, 2017 at 3:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Strange Case of Dr. Tumblety and Mr. Ripper, Part Two


“A Suspicious Character,” From the Illustrated London News, October 13, 1888.

As we saw in a recent post, one of the suspects behind the Jack the Ripper killings was a former Rochester resident.

Dr. Francis Tumblety’s career as a charlatan physician and his propensity for scandal took him from Rochester to various cities across the United States and Canada in the 19th century before he found himself peddling a pimple cure in England during the time of the infamous Whitechapel murders.

On November 7, 1888, London police picked up Tumblety on a “gross indecency” (most likely homosexual activity) charge, but he was kept in custody as a potential Ripper suspect after Scotland Yard deemed him to be a dangerous character.

He was nevertheless eventually freed on bail for the initial charge, and quickly absconded to Le Havre where he boarded a New York-bound ship under a false name.


Headline from the New York World, December 2, 1888.

When word of the arrest crossed the pond, newspapers in Rochester and beyond penned sensational pieces recollecting the quack doctor’s eccentric behaviours and the laundry list of petty crimes that had been attached to Tumblety’s name over the years.

Rochester residents who knew Tumblety as a young man also put in their two cents in the pages of the local press.

Captain W.C. Streeter, who used to see Tumblety hawking controversial literature to packet boat travelers on the Erie Canal, was in no way shocked by the accusations.

“I thought then that his mind had been affected by those books he sold, and am not at all surprised to hear his name mentioned in connection with the Whitechapel murders,” Streeter informed the Democrat & Chronicle in December 1888.

The same article included the impressions of erstwhile Rochester resident, Edward Haywood, who described the young Tumblety as an “ignorant…good-for-nothing boy” before declaring, “I should not be the least surprised if he turned out to be Jack the Ripper.”

The most damning testament to Tumblety’s (nefarious) character that surfaced in the wake of the Whitechapel news, came from a Civil War veteran by the name of Colonel C.A. Dunham. Dunham claimed that years before, he had attended a dinner party at Tumblety’s home in Washington, D.C., at which the doctor proudly displayed a collection of human uteruses in mason jars.

Dunham also revealed that Tumblety had told him a story that seemingly suggested the source of the doctor’s alleged antipathy towards women. According to the Colonel, Tumblety had fallen in love with an older woman when he was a young man. The pair married, but the relationship met an abrupt end after Tumblety discovered his wife working in a brothel.

Dunham’s recollections sounded a number of alarms to those seeking to link Tumblety to the Whitechapel murders. Jack the Ripper was a misogynist by all accounts and he chose prostitutes as his prey. He also disemboweled his victims, making Tumblety’s anatomical collection all the more curious.

Also curious was the fact that the London slayings ended after Tumblety left England.

So why did Francis Tumblety get off scot-free?

The doctor may have fit the bill in terms of motives and timing, but there was no actual hard evidence connecting Tumblety to the crimes. Moreover, Jack the Ripper’s profile suggested he was not a particularly large specimen of a man, unlike the physically imposing doctor.

Tumblety’s name continued to resurface in American headlines for months after the murders, but he all but disappeared from publications overseas. This was likely due in part to the fact that Scotland Yard did not wish to suffer further embarrassment for having let one of its prime suspects escape. They also had a roster of other potential criminal candidates to consider.

Chief Inspector John Littlechild, who headed the search for Ripper, nevertheless remained convinced that Tumblety was the culprit decades after the murders had taken place. A letter he penned in 1913 stating as much has served as the primary evidence driving Tumblety’s continued association with the killings among some Ripper researchers.


Riordan’s 2009 book is one of several works that have included Francis Tumblety as a prime suspect in the Whitechapel murders.

Other scholars are doubtful that Dr. Tumblety was anything more than an eccentric character with a penchant for petty crimes and controversy.

Many of Tumblety’s contemporaries felt the same. When asked if he thought the doctor was behind the Ripper slayings, a New York City detective familiar with Tumblety exclaimed, “Why he hasn’t the nerve of a chicken. He just had nerve enough to put some molasses and water together and label it a medicine—the biggest nerve being in the label-and sell it.”

-Emily Morry

Published in: on November 30, 2017 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Eliminating a Founder: the Origin of State Street

In 1800, three men came to western New York to review sites for the settlement that would become Rochester. The three included: Nathaniel Rochester (who would give his name to the new community); William Fitzhugh (for whom Rochester named one of the original thoroughfares, Fitzhugh Street); and Charles Carroll of Belle Vue (as he signed himself, November 7, 1767-October 28, 1823), for whom another of the original roads was named, Carroll Street. Today Carroll Street and Charles Carroll are gone and almost forgotten.

This is the story of why Carroll was written out of our history (and the later attempt to rectify the omission).


Charles Carroll of Belle Vue (1767-1823)
Upstate Magazine, Democrat and Chronicle, December 27, 1981, p. 14

Charles Carroll of Belle Vue came from a large, prosperous, and respectable family. Many  members of the family were named “Charles,” which necessitated the use of modifiers to identify each. The American ancestor of the clan was Charles Carroll, “The Settler” (1660?-1 July 1720), who was Attorney General of the colony of Maryland. The Settler’s grandson, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, “The Signer” (September 19, 1737-November 14, 1832), was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and later a U.S. Senator.  Among other members of the extended clan were Daniel Carroll (July 22, 1730-May 7, 1796), a signer of the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States. Daniel’s brother, John Carroll (January 8, 1735-December 3, 1815), was the first American Catholic bishop and later Archbishop of Baltimore.

Our Charles was born in Frederick County, Maryland. In 1789, he moved westward to Washington County, Maryland, where he built a large estate named Belle Vue near Hagerstown, Maryland. The 1803-1804 tax roll testifies to his wealth. The document affirms that he had 27 horses, 100 head of cattle, and 28 slaves. By the time he moved permanently to the Genesee Country in 1815, he reportedly had at least 40 slaves.

It was in Hagerstown that he made the acquaintance of both Nathaniel Rochester and William Fitzhugh. In 1807, he was elected a director of the Hagerstown Bank. Fitzhugh was another director, while Rochester was the founder of the firm and served as President. The three became close friends and shared an interest in land speculation, which led them to travel to various portions of the country seeking properties to acquire and develop.

When Nathaniel Rochester relocated to New York, he settled first in Dansville and then to the village named after him. Carroll moved to New York in 1815, settling in Groveland (Livingston County, near Geneseo). Despite the distance between them, Carroll and Rochester were in constant contact. As noted, the respect Rochester had for his partners can be seen by the fact that he named two of the original streets for them.

carroll-map 1827

Carroll Street and Fitzhugh Street can be seen in this 1827 map. NB: Buffalo Street is now West Main Street. (Elisha Johnson, directory map of the village of Rochester, 1827)

Today Carroll Street no longer exists. Why is that?

Nathaniel Rochester died on May 17, 1831. Four months later, on September 13, 1831, the Common Council voted to rename Carroll Street “State Street.” This was a result of a lawsuit the village had lost. The community had wanted a site for a public market and sought to obtain property owned by Charles Holker Carroll (Belle Vue’s son) for the purpose. A dispute arose over Holker’s continued use of the property he had sold to the town. When the matter couldn’t be resolved, Holker took the town to court. He won the case, and the Common Council, in a fit of pique, changed the name of the street, writing Holker’s father out of Rochester’s history.

One hundred and forty years later, the City Council of Rochester sought to rectify the omission. On July 10, 1973 the City Council passed another resolution that “the park facility known as Genesee Crossroads Park West be renamed ‘Charles Carroll Park’ in honor of Major Charles Carroll, one of the co-founders of the City of Rochester.”


Charles Carroll Park (1987)

-Christopher Brennan

Published in: on November 9, 2017 at 2:56 pm  Comments (2)  

The Strange Case of Dr. Tumblety and Mr. Ripper, part one.

Lurking in the depths of Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, lie the remains of one of Rochester’s most mysterious residents. Dr. Francis Tumblety is probably best known for being a suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders, but this claim to infamy represents just one source of the late “Doctor’s” notoriety.

The exact details of Tumblety’s life are somewhat murky and confusing. This is influenced in no small part by the fact that Tumblety had a flair for fantastical tales and deliberately implicated himself in controversy. He also employed a series of alternate names.


Even Tumblety’s grave employed an alternate name. Here he appears as Francis Tumuelty. Photo from

It is difficult to separate fact from fiction when dealing with such a figure, so the following account is simply an attempt.

Francis Tumblety was born in Ireland in 1830, but had settled in Rochester’s Third Ward neighborhood (present day Corn Hill) with his family by the following decade. He earned a reputation at an early age due to his proclivity to sell “blue” literature to travelers and laborers along the Erie Canal.

He acquired his alleged medical credentials as a young man. Some of his contemporaries suggest he picked up the trade from a local herb doctor by the name of R.J. Lyons. Others claim he learned from a Dr. Reynolds of Lispenard’s Hospital, where the young Tumblety worked sweeping floors. He was also known to tote papers from the Philadelphia Medical College in later years.

Whether or not Tumblety actually obtained medical training from any of these sources, he began billing himself as an “Indian Herb Doctor” in Detroit as early as 1850. Though the practice was seemingly successful—he amassed a good amount of money—Tumblety left the Motor City for Montréal in 1857.

Tumblety would relocate cities many times over the course of his life. Such moves were often inspired by run-ins with the law.

In Montréal, Tumblety was arrested for attempting to abort the pregnancy of local prostitute, Philomene Dumas. He then fled to St. John, New Brunswick, but after one of his patients died suddenly (allegedly due to Tumblety’s treatment methods) the doctor skipped town again, and returned to the United States.


The October 5, 1860 issue of the Rochester Union & Advertiser relayed news of Tumblety’s time in New Brunswick.

In cities such as Boston, Brooklyn and Baltimore, Tumblety amplified his eccentric repute by parading about town on a horse accompanied by a Newfoundland dog, a pair of Italian greyhounds and a male servant.


The mustachioed Dr. Tumblety. From the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, October 31, 1999.

The mustachioed medic also had an affinity for long fur coats and jewelry, and was known to change his outfit four or five times a day. When the Civil War broke out, his sartorial tastes turned towards the militaristic. Outfitted in full uniform, he relocated to Washington DC, where he attempted to pass himself off (unsuccessfully) as a surgeon in General McClellan’s army.

He moved on to Missouri, where he was arrested at least twice for such military charlatanism, before being detained on a much more serious charge– involvement in a conspiracy to infect the Union forces with yellow fever-infected clothing.

Tumblety was apparently going by the name of Dr. Blackburn at the time, which led to his confusion with the actual conspirator, Kentucky Governor Luke Blackburn. Though Tumblety was cleared of the charge, some of his contemporaries hypothesized that he had purposely played into the confusion in order to further fuel his notoriety.

Tumblety was then linked to another plot–the assassination of Abraham Lincoln– when it was uncovered that one of Tumblety’s former man-servants, Harold, was friends with John Wilkes Booth.

Tumblety was eventually cleared of this charge as well, but not before he spent the better part of a month confined at the Old Capitol Prisoner of War Camp in Washington, DC.

tumblety-pow 3

Document dated May 10, 1865 outlining Tumblety as a “supposed conspirator” to be confined in the Old Capitol Prison. From: U.S., Union Provost Marshals’ Papers, 1861-1867 [database on-line]

The post-war years saw Tumblety continue his itinerant ways, peddling a pimple cure around the country and getting involved in a few more legal scuffles.

He occasionally took his “talents” overseas in the 1870s and 1880s, and found himself in London in 1888 during the same period that Jack the Ripper committed the series of brutal killings known as the Whitechapel murders.

Rochester resident Dr. Francis Tumblety would become one of the suspects.

To be continued…

Happy Halloween!


-Emily Morry







Published in: on October 31, 2017 at 5:30 pm  Comments (1)  

Lost Settlements: Fort Schuyler and the Town of Tryon

Three hundred years ago, Great Britain and France were locked in a struggle for control of North America, with its bountiful land and resources. That conflict did not end until the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763), which ended the French and Indian War (1754-63). The terms of the treaty ceded most of the continent to Britain and set the stage for the American Revolution to follow (1775-1783).

While relations were still tense between the two powers, in 1721 the Assembly of the colony of New York passed an act to establish a trading post in this section of the state. The site was Indian Landing, in what is today Ellison Park. The ostensible purpose of the post was for trade with the local Iroquois, but a secondary element of its charge was to provide a defense against possible French attacks from Canada. Eight men were appointed to staff the fort, one of whom was Capt. Peter Schuyler, for whom the post was named (Fort Schuyler). Difficulty in supplying Fort Schuyler from Albany led to its abandonment after only a year.

Tryon- fort schuyler

Historical reenactment of Fort Schuyler (1999)

Two generations later, another effort was made by White settlers to inhabit the former Indian Landing/Fort Schuyler site. Unlike other early settlers, brothers Salmon and John Tryon were not just interested in a place to live for themselves and their family. They planned to make themselves rich by establishing a planned community–they called it a “city”–at the Indian Landing site, where Irondequoit Creek meets Irondequoit Bay. The site had everything they could possibly want:  water power, timber, a navigable harbor, and a strategic location on land and water.

Tryon- Indian Landing marker

Historical Marker at Indian Landing (Ellison Park).
Across Irondequoit Creek from the marker is the site of
Fort Schuyler and the Town of Tryon,
remains of which are no longer extant.

The first brother to settle was Salmon Tryon, who purchased 315 acres in 1796 and subdivided the land into half-acre lots. In 1797, he sold his holdings to his brother John. The latter opened a general store. He also developed a business complex that included mills, a warehouse, distillery, ashery and shipping docks with boats. The ashery housed the ashes from the cleared timber, which were then used in the manufacture of gunpowder. The distillery made liquor, which was cheaper to ship than the grain used in its manufacture. Initially, the store employed the barter system, with Seneca Indians exchanging furs and skins for trading goods. Before long, however, White settlers moved into the area. The surviving account books include the names of 426 customers.

Why did the town of Tryon not succeed as a community? The beginning of the end occurred with the death of John Tryon in 1807, which necessitated settling his estate between his business and his family. Much of the business involving his various enterprises was done on the basis of barter or credit and resolving the debts took time. In 1812, the first executor passed on and two others were appointed to succeed him. When they relinquished responsibility, still another executor was appointed. The disorder associated with administering the estate did nothing to inspire the confidence of Tryon residents.

Another factor was that Tryon’s children had no interest in the settlement and were unwilling to take over management of his various enterprises. Arguably the chief reason, though, was the impending arrival of the Erie Canal.  As it became clear that the canal was not going to be placed in the vicinity of Irondequoit Bay, it also became clear that the long-term viability of the settlement was in doubt. The site was abandoned by 1818.


-Christopher Brennan









Published in: on October 10, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Lost Leisure: the Story of one of Rochester’s Earliest Entertainment Destinations

You may have noticed the greenspace on St. Paul Street that lies just south of the Genesee Brewery. Today, it is the little used High Falls Terrace Park, but in the 19th century, the property was the site of one of Rochester’s earliest and most popular entertainment destinations: Falls Field.

FF-1870 map.jpg

This 1870 City Directory map shows Falls Field west of St Paul Street near Marietta Street.

Though Falls Field is perhaps best known for the scandalous murder that occurred on the premises  in 1857, the locale experienced a host of spectacular events and housed a variety of recreational venues in its lengthy history.

Years before such venues were built at the site, Falls Field bore the reputation as “the lungs of Rochester,” where early 19th century locals sought to improve their health by taking in fresh air on leisurely strolls. The Field’s proximity to the Upper Falls also made it a favourite sightseeing spot.

One of the most outrageous sights witnessed at Falls Field occurred in 1829, when Rochesterians gathered at the scenic overlook to catch a glimpse of daredevil, Sam Patch, as he leapt from the High Falls and tragically plunged to this death.

FF-sam patch

Advertisement promoting Sam Patch’s “Last” jump on Friday, November 13, 1829.

By mid-century, patrons of the park began taking in a host of entertainments in addition to the waterfront scenery.

N.P. Demarest, who had managed the grounds at least since 1850, installed the city’s first merry-go-round at the site that year. The novel ride was powered by a horse and driver who repeatedly followed a circular path for hours at a time in the cellar below.

Demarest also erected a saloon and beer garden on the premises, which became a favourite gathering place among the city’s German population.

To further popularize the garden, in 1858 the proprietor hired French tight rope artist, Anloise De Lave to walk across the High Falls gorge. De Lave put on two weeks worth of performances before packing it in when his last stunt—in which he attempted to carry a man across the gorge–barely avoided a tragic conclusion.

A few years after this near disaster, Frederich Fach took over management of the field and constructed an opera house at the location. The short-lived structure was less than a year old when it was destroyed by a massive fire in the summer of 1862.

The following decade, German immigrant John Meinhard sought to redevelop Falls Field, offering park patrons a picnic ground, an ornamental garden, a restaurant, a combination concert/dance/bowling hall (which also served as a skating rink in the winter), and a menagerie replete with monkeys, bears and raccoons.

These creatures were regularly joined at Falls Field by other temporary tenants from the animal kingdom whenever traveling circuses pitched their tents at the park.

In June 1871, the New York Circus descended on the Field with an assemblage of acrobats, clowns, Lilliputian ponies–billed as the “smallest and handsomest of the world”–as well as the first appearance in America of the “Cynocephalus,” an exotic beast captured in Zanzibar by Frenchman, Jean Martell.


Advertisement for the “first-class circus” from Democrat and Chronicle, May 31, 1871.

The last circus to grace Falls Field in 1879 gave rise to a newspaper hoax when it was reported that a hippopotamus had escaped from captivity and had barreled his way north before eventually being captured at Irondequoit Bay.

By the late 19th century, many of Rochester’s entertainment seekers were also migrating northward, as the development of electric trolley lines redirected residents towards the resorts and amusement parks lining the shores of Lake Ontario.

In 1886, the once popular parkland was sold to the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg Railroad.

FF- 1888 map

The former greenspace following its sale to the railroad company. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1888.

The site became further industrialized in 1905 when the theater, hotel and pool remaining on the premises were torn down to make way for the expansive plant of the W.P. Davis Machine Company. For some time, a junk yard and coal yard also occupied the expansive lot, which later devolved into a vacant field before the City repurposed it as High Falls Terrace Park in the 1990s.


The former Falls Field site is now occupied by High Falls Terrace Park. Googlemaps, 2017.

The former amusement center will undergo another metamorphosis in the coming years which will find the old railway lines replaced with a walking promenade and the greenspace enhanced with  native plantings and improved park amenities.

-Emily Morry




Published in: on September 30, 2017 at 12:04 pm  Leave a Comment